Minimum wage talks add fuel to secession debate

By Cherise Kaechele, The La Grande Observer, @lgoKaechele

Anew Idaho is not the brainchild of Union County resident Ken Parsons. Quite the contrary. The secession of Oregon has been brought up in year's past to then Umatilla County Commissioner Bill Hansell, who is now a state senator, as well as Rep. Greg Barreto, R-Cove.

Parsons first became interested in the secession issue after he read a letter to the editor in The Observer in September 2015. From the letter, a seed was planted, a kernel Parsons wants to nurture into a full-fledged political harvest.

For Parsons, the secession subject is not about east versus west or Republican versus Democrat. It's very much about urban versus rural and the sentiment that large sections of Oregon and Washington state are politically underrepresented.

However, Barreto and Hansell, though they like the idea, don't know how viable it is.

"In my 30 years as a Umatilla County Commissioner, these discussions have surfaced from time to time," Hansell said. "I don't know much about this (specific) process, but I am familiar with the effort and the reason (behind it)."

Hansell said there is a different focus or interest in politics, natural resources, the economy and social issues that divides the state.

"I think there is a frustration that grows in the counties about the other areas that completely dominate the political thought and process of the state to those of us in the natural resource areas," Hansell said. "What can we do? Why not make a state that is more balanced and more in-tune to the issues facing us?"

Barreto agreed with the idea, saying it's "everyone's dream" to be represented.

"I don't think anyone has really looked at (secession) in-depth," Barreto said. "I'm not sure if it's really a possibility."

Barreto said he doesn't know what the process of secession would even be.

"The idea has been around for a while," he said. "(The metro areas) have a differentpolicy they live under than (in Union County)."

The policies that the Legislature creates in Salem mostly affect Portland, he said.

Hansell brought up the secession that divided Virginia in the Civil War, in which a number of counties seceded and became West Virginia. It's possible, he said, but he doesn't know what it'd take.

Barreto said if the rural areas want to be heard, they need to get involved.

"It is what it is for now," Barreto said. "But the thing we need to do is get more people to the Legislature who think the same as we do."

A state seceding is nothing new, as history has shown.

Besides the Virginia/West Virginia secession, various efforts have landed on ballots and on the floor of state legislatures across the country numerous times since then.

In 2012, residents of all 50 states filed a secession petition with the "We the People" program.

In 2008, Neal Hendrickson, a Utah state representative, tried to create a new state within Utah and in 2011, some Arizona residents tried to do the same, among countless other attempts in recent years.

This is not even the first time a secession movement has swept through Eastern Oregon.

A story in the April 24, 1986, Eugene Register-Guard showed the region's dissatisfaction with being "forgotten by their western neighbors" was already evident.

The idea to create the "Great State of Eastern Oregon" crystallized in April 1985, according to the story, among discontented citizens of Baker City. A Declaration of Independence was drawn up and a celebration was held that month in Sumpter.

The movement went so far as to elect a "governor," the story said. Neal "Doc" Werner of Milton-Freewater was elected. The new "government" selected a "Paul Revere" to visit the new state's eight counties - Umatilla, Wallowa, Union, Grant, Morrow, Baker, Harney and Malheur - and two senators from each county were elected to represent the new Legislature. The state even printed money - $3 bills - and offered citizenship cards for $2.

While Parsons admitted he doesn't know how to get this idea to snowball into a full-fledged movement, he feels Eastern Oregon is politically underrepresented. More importantly, since the Legislatures have started proposing a minimum wage hike, he feels even more strongly about the secession.

"I'm a farmer," Parsons said. "I grow a product and sell it to the open market, but they dictate my prices. So if I have to go from paying a specified higher rate for guys to move my wheel lines, I have no way of absorbing that. It comes out of my pocket. It disables me or slows me down to buy more land and more equipment. It runs you down to the point where you can't survive."

Parsons said there are countless reasons secession is a good idea. He said 85 percent of the members of the Oregon and Washington state legislatures live within 50 miles of the capital. "Salem and Everett to Olympia, Washington, are the major population centers," Parsons said. "They take whatever they so chose and make the other part of the state accept it."

Parsons created a Yahoo group last year, where those interested can offer opinions in a respectful manner, called "Washington and Oregon Join Idaho."

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The La Grande Observer
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